Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pop Phobia: Who Are the Phobes?

This post by Spencer Ackerman asserts that you will not find too many Islamophobes in the American military among combat vets.  He essentially makes the fairly standard argument that the more contact you have, the more sympathy you have, the less hate you have.  The more you interact, the less you buy into the hype:
And many, if not most, came home understanding that Muslims aren't so different. Muslims don't have heat vision. They're not implacably opposed to freedom and all that shit. They're not looking to join a terrorist group, and "proto-terrorism" doesn't lurk in their hearts.
But Ackerman does note that he "can't prove any of this.  It's all anecdotal."

Ah, but we do have some social science on your side.  And we have patterns that we see again and again that suggest that contact does not breed conflict as much as ignorance.  How so?

First, one of the consistent findings in the scholarship is that ethnic conflict is most severe when ethnic groups are concentrated.  That is, when they largely live apart, not when they are integrated.  There are all kinds of reasons this may be true, including concentration means easier to defend (which makes attacking less risky) and so on.  But one of the logics is that if groups are concentrated, members will not interact that often with outsiders, and that will help to reinforce suspicion, fear, and otherwise reinforce in-group, out-group dynamics.  And to be clear, it is not just ethnic differences or diversity but how they are situated.  Studies that focus ethnic fractionalization--how likely you are to meet someone of another ethnic group NEVER find that more diversity (which implies more contact) is a bad thing in terms of ethnic violence. 

Second, we tend to find those folks who join nativist, xenophobic movements are often those who hardly ever encounter the others that they fear.  These movements are not in urban areas but elsewhere, but the feared immigrants are in the cities.  This is not just a Tea Party kind of thing.  Here in Quebec, lots of the folks opposed to reasonable accommodation and raising fears of the various religious menaces (Muslims, devout Jews, etc) never see them, as they live in the hinterlands.  Famously, a few years ago, one town issued a declaration about what their values were, so that no immigrants with conflicting values should move there without adopting the new beliefs, but this town was not facing a wave of immigration. 

So, who are the phobic folks?  Those who hate and fear the "others"?  Those that have little experience in general. Sure, some folks who meet do continue to hate, but the recurring pattern seems to be that those with the least exposure tend to be the most xenophobic.  Folks in NY, LA, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, London, and elsewhere are far less likely to jump on the xenophobic bandwagon.  If I had more time (if I were not so lazy), I am pretty sure I can find voting patterns for the National Front, the Party for Freedom, the True Finn Party, the Danish People's Party and the like and see that these parties do better in the most homogeneous communities.

Anybody got some social science to suggest I am off on this?

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